Solar Orbiter is a satellite that will fly very close to the Sun and needs to be protected against high temperatures. Therefore it has got a black heat shield to protect the different instruments against the heat.
Solar Orbiter carries 10 science instruments that are divided into 2 types of instruments. The first group of instruments are similar to cameras and will make images of the magnificent Sun. The second group consists of 'in situ' instruments that will measure the conditions around the spacecraft, in the 'solar wind'.
The satellite has an antenna to receive commands from Earth and to send data back to ESA.
The spacecraft cannot function without electricity. To generate electricity, it has solar panels at both sides. When the satellite comes very close to the Sun, they need to be tilted away from the Sun to not overheat.
Solar Orbiter has a width of 18 meter and weighs 1800 kg.
Solar Orbiter will try to answer big questions about our Solar System. It will fly close to the Sun and for the first time, it will collect data about the Sun's poles. During the mission, it will collect information and images which scientists will use to better understand our Sun and to improve the space weather forecast.
After launch, Solar Orbiter will use the gravity of Earth and Venus to gain speed and get closer to the Sun. Solar Orbiter will fly for several years, at least seven. Each orbit around the Sun takes about six months.
Solar Orbiter has been built and tested since 2010. End October 2019 it has been packed for its journey to Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, for the launch by NASA.
The spacecraft got launched on the 9-10th of February on an Atlas V 411 rocket. This rocket is 60 m high and weighs 600 000 kg.
At closest approach, Solar Orbiter will be about 42 million kilometres from the Sun, even closer than Mercury.
The spacecraft must withstand temperatures up to 500 ºC. Therefore the spacecraft has a black heat shield that will protect all its instruments. Small sliding doors in the heat shield allow the cameras to peak through it to take images of the Sun.
Solar Orbiter will take the first ever images of the Sun's poles.
Solar Orbiter will work together with another satellite Parker Solar Probe (NASA). Parker Solar Probe flies even closer to the Sun, but is 'blind' because it does not have onboard cameras. Together with Solar Orbiter, the solar activity can be imaged and measured at different distances and from different sides of the Sun.
Image Courtesy: ESA/NASA